The Microsoft Faculty Summit

A few weeks ago I had the honor of attending the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit in Redmond, Washington. Microsoft’s Faculty Summit is an important annual gathering, and normally Bill Gates opens the event. This year, however, Microsoft decided that a plenary panel should kick things off.
The plenary, entitled, “Meeting the Technical Challenges of the Future” (webcast available here) focused on concerns about our country’s ability to innovate and compete, concerns that gained national attention with National Academy of Engineering’s report, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Future.”
Fellow plenary participants included Richard Newton, Dean of the College of Engineering at the University of California at Berkeley; Dan Mote, President of the University of Maryland; Craig Mundie, Chief Research and Strategy Officer of Advanced Strategies and Policy at Microsoft; and Richard M. Russell, Associate Director at the President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Recently NCWIT and the National Science Foundation sponsored an Innovation Town Hall in Washington, D.C., addressing the national computing community’s concerns about research investment, talent development, and the role of diverse thought in innovation and competitiveness. I saw the Faculty Summit as an opportunity to continue a national dialogue on innovation and competitiveness, and found myself addressing more than 350 distinguished computing faculty from across the country about the deteriorating state of affairs in the professional information technology workforce (for both men and women.) Here are just a few of the facts:

Selection of computer science as a major in our nation’s universities has declined over 60% in the last 5 years
Based on Department of Labor estimates, we will graduate only HALF the needed candidates to fill 1.6 million IT job openings between now and 2014
The computer science discipline continues to remain unattractive to women and under-represented minorities, who, combined, constitute almost 70% of our population

The Faculty Summit plenary instigated a lively discussion about a wide range of issues, from changing the educational curriculum for computing to be more relevant and inviting, to how we can give computing an “image makeover,” to the idea of creating a “grand challenge” for computing. It was an exciting and critical discussion, and it didn’t stop when the plenary ended. Before the day was out I had been approached by many individuals who wanted to discuss their desire to address these issues, and who wondered how they could effect change at their universities.
Corporations like Microsoft have a big bully pulpit: that’s why it’s good to know that they are using their position in the industry and with the press to further these important conversations.

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